Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday that President Donald Trump has asked him to rebuild the U.S. relationship with Russia and not allow the political turmoil over possible Russian ties to the Trump campaign to impede him.
Tillerson said relations with Russia are at a low point and deteriorating, and Trump asked him to try to stabilize the relationship and rebuild trust.
The top U.S. diplomat spoke in Wellington, New Zealand, where he met with Prime Minister Bill English during a brief visit.
Tillerson said he couldn’t comment on the details of the Russia investigations or whether they could bring down the administration because “I have no direct knowledge.”
He said Trump has told him he should not allow the uproar to impede him from working on the relationship.
“He’s been quite clear with me to proceed at whatever pace and in the areas I think we might make progress,” Tillerson said. “I really am not involved in any of these other issues.”
Tillerson was also asked about Trump’s provocative tweets, including those in which he criticized London’s mayor after three assailants killed seven people and wounded dozens in the London Bridge area over the weekend.
“The president has his own unique ways of communicating with the American people, and the world,” Tillerson said. “And it’s served him pretty well, and I don’t intend to advise him on how to communicate. That’s up to him.”
Tillerson said he was pleased by reports that some British imams were refusing to offer funeral prayers for the London attackers.
“That is what has to be done,” he said. “Only the Muslim faith can handle this.”
English said he was reassured by Tillerson about the intention of the U.S. to engage in the Asia-Pacific region. Tillerson’s New Zealand stopover came after he visited Australia with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.